Getting Suspended From School Doesn’t Always Mean A Student Drops Out

By Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, Deputy Director of the DC Public Charter School Board

“Being suspended increases risk for dropping out of high school. That is a well-established fact,” said Dr. Russell W. Rumberger, co-author of the recent UCLA Civil Rights Project study and professor of education in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

An analysis of two years of suspension and re-enrollment data of public charter schools in Washington, D.C. proves Dr. Rumberger’s statement is not entirely true.  More than 80% of students suspended for one day do not drop out but re-enroll in the same school. Our analysis of more than 30,000 students shows those suspended for no longer than one day reenroll  the next school year within three percentage points of the rate of students who were never suspended.  

All Students in Prekindergarten through 12 grades

School Year

No suspensions

one day suspension

 

Reenrollment rate

Reenrollment rate

2013-14

to

2014-15

83.6%

80.5%

2012-13

to

2013-14

83.1%

81.8%

 

By contrast, just over half of the students who have multiple suspensions over the course of the year or one suspension in which they miss more than 10 days out of school, are likely to re-enroll in that same school. Their re-enrollment rate is 30 percentage points lower than their non-suspended peers. This is reason for concern. We lose focus when we lump all types of suspensions and students together. The discussion needs to move beyond all suspensions to focusing on long-term or repeated use of suspension and the effects this has on students not the short-term, one-day suspensions that show little to no impact.

As important as separating out long- and short-term suspension is recognizing that the overwhelming majority of students attending DC public charter schools have never been suspended. Last year 88% of students in grades prekindergarten through 12th, who could re-enroll in the same school, were never excluded from school. The number who have been suspended for more than 10 days was below 1% at 225 students, a number that decreased significantly from the previous year, when DC PCSB began publishing the data on its website and talking to schools’ boards about their non-academic outcomes.

Percent of Students with Suspensions Eligible to Reenroll (Prekindergarten through 12 grades

 

No suspensions

one day suspensions

more than 10 days suspensions

 

Percent of students

Percent of students

 

Percent of students

2013-14

87.5% (22,493)

3.2% (826)

0.9% (225)

2012-13

83.7% (20,818)

3.9% (967)

1.7% (430)

This analysis supports a practice that exists among many public charter schools—that a measured and deliberate approach to suspending students can result in producing a climate that is both inclusive and safe.  When a student brings a weapon to school or causes bodily injury to a peer, it’s important the school respond quickly and firmly. Sometimes the best outcome for the school community is to remove a student for a short period of time.

A nuanced study of suspension, that takes into considerations all of the behavior management practices the school employs will shed a light on the characteristics of students who are suspended and address ways the school can re-engage them prior to dropping out of school. DC PCSB interviewed staff at schools that have dramatically reduced their suspension rates to better understand what they are doing to ensure they continue to have a culture of high behavioral expectations and safety. A full report can be found here: An Honest Approach to Discipline. The report mentions four key strategies schools employed:

  • Schools must build and maintain strong relationships between students and teachers;
  • Instead of focusing on consequences, a school’s philosophy on discipline must focus on the cause of the student’s behavior and encourage positive behavior;

  • Schools should be intentional and strategic with their school discipline data; and
  • Parent engagement is critical at every stage. 

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